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Pension Credit (South-West)

20. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): What response he has had to the consultation on the pension credit from people and organisations in the south-west of England. [462]

The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): We received more than 400 responses, including from the west country, to the consultation exercise. The credit delivered from 2003 will tackle pensioner poverty, first by ensuring that no pensioner lives on less than £100 a week and no pensioner couple lives on less than £154 a week. We are rewarding, not penalising, pensioners for having worked and saved so that they can provide for themselves by giving incomes of up to £135 a week to single pensioners and £200 a week to couples. Secondly, we have reformed the capital limits and the unrealistic rates of return that go with them, abolished the weekly means test and modernised the way in which we deliver pensions by simplifying the rules and significantly reducing from the outset the complex information that is available. Over time, we will reduce the intrusion and hassle experienced by pensioners.

Linda Gilroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and welcome him to his new responsibilities. I also welcome the proposal in the Queen's Speech to introduce the pension credit through legislation this Session. May I urge him to ensure, as soon as he can, that straightforward

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information is made available in good time to the many thousands of people in my constituency who could benefit from that new pension credit?

Mr. McCartney: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks and give an absolute guarantee we will keep in regular contact with all hon. Members and the pensioners who will benefit from the pension credit so that they receive information on their rights at appropriate times. The purpose of creating the new pension service--a national service delivered locally--is to improve dramatically across the United Kingdom pensioners' access to information and to income.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Does the Minister agree with Mr. Mervyn Kohler, the director general of Help the Aged, who thinks that the pension credit

Mr. McCartney: The gentleman that the hon. Gentleman mentions may have been misinterpreted because, in principle, his organisation welcomes the purpose of the pension credit, which, as I have said, is intended to reduce complexity, intrusion and hassle and to ensure that people have early access to it. When pensioners see the proposals, they will find that the Government have been true to their word in introducing a credit that gives pensioners easy, transparent and quick access to additional forms of income.

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Disturbances, Burnley

3.33 pm

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on what action his Department is going to take following the riots in Burnley over the weekend.

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): As the House is aware, outbreaks of disorder took place in Burnley on the evening of Saturday 23 June and, more seriously, yesterday evening, 24 June. I have received an urgent report from Lancashire constabulary, from which at least the outlines of what occurred are clear.

A number of apparently spontaneous incidents occurred in the early morning of Saturday 23 June. They included a fight between two groups of Asian youths outside a local night club, one of which was local to the area and the other from west Yorkshire. Two of the local youths were stabbed, and two people have been arrested.

In the second incident, police were called to the scene of a quarrel between a group of Asian people and a white group, following complaints that the white group was holding a noisy party. In the disturbance that followed, nine vehicles, which belonged to Asian and white families, were damaged by the white youths. At the same time, an off-duty Asian taxi driver was attacked by a group of white men and suffered a fractured cheek bone. Two white males were arrested.

During Saturday evening, residents of the Stoneyholme district reported gatherings of young Asian men near Abel street. Police officers were deployed to the area and began to speak to the youths, but missiles were soon thrown at the police. Damage was caused to the Duke of York public house on Colne road and what are described as minor altercations took place between local Asian and white youths. For the next two hours, there were sporadic incidents of stone throwing at passing vehicles--police cars and private cars--but the police inform me that no large-scale disorder took place. The streets were again quiet by 1 am.

On the next day, there were a number of minor incidents, to which the police responded, between 5 am and 7 pm. Disorder recurred around 7.30 pm, when, without warning, about 70 white males left a public house and headed for the Stoneyholme area to challenge Asian youths. Serious disorder broke out. Several missiles were thrown at the police and, during the disorder, vehicles were set on fire, together with the public house and shop premises. At the height of the disorder, petrol bombs were thrown at the police. During that period, the police attempted to prevent confrontations between white and Asian youths. Following police intervention, the crowds had dispersed by 1 am.

I understand from the police that 11 people, eight of whom are white, have so far been arrested for actions arising from the weekend's events. The offences include criminal damage, wounding and public order offences. I am pleased to say that there have been no reports of injuries to the police.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing disgust at the criminal violence that took place on the streets of Burnley over the weekend and at the

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mindless acts of provocation that preceded it. The police strategy has been to protect all sections of the community, to minimise damage to property and to investigate criminal activity.

I welcome the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), reported in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, in which he appealed for calm and urged white and Asian youths to stay off the streets. I also welcome similarly positive statements by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Right Reverend Alan Chesters, and Moulana Ahmed Sidat, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques.

The weekend's events will have been deeply disturbing to everyone living in Burnley. From the information that I have received so far, it appears that a series of apparently unrelated individual incidents sparked the trouble. There can be no excuse for violence or lawbreaking from any section of the community. The whole House will condemn the activities of racist organisations and those who are racially motivated, but my hon. Friend will want to look at how the tensions and problems that were manifest this weekend can be overcome.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), are, of course, seeking advice from our race advisers and the Commission for Racial Equality on any common elements in the disturbances of recent weeks. I shall look in particular at the policing and law and order elements of the events in Burnley.

As at Oldham, the primary job of tackling the underlying problems that give rise to divisions and disturbance must be done at a local level. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is today in Oldham talking to local people about the way forward there.

I have asked for reports from the police, the Government office for the north west and the local authority on events in Burnley and the issues that might lie behind them. I understand that there is a long tradition of good race relations in Burnley, and I hope that, with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, those who want to build on that tradition will identify what needs to be done over the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Pike: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he echo my comments that it is vital that people stay at home tonight and do not go out to create more disturbance? The only way to resolve the problems is to sit around the table and talk. Is not it therefore important that we give our full support to this afternoon's discussions between the police, the council and members of the local community in Burnley, with a view to resolving those problems?

Is not it also important to recognise that, although, regrettably, the racist and extremist British National party received more than 11 per cent. of the vote in Burnley on 7 June, not all those who voted for it are necessarily racist? Many were misled by its comments during the election campaign. Should we not address what is at the core of the disturbances? We should consider the problems of empty houses and poverty in many parts of Burnley, and attack those problems jointly.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the money available to a small district council such as Burnley--it is not a unitary authority--is minimal? Although Burnley

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has always fully supported the fact that most of the money made available is no longer core funding but is targeted at particular problems, it faces difficulty in moving funding around in order to meet specific problems that are perceived locally as priorities. Having said that, the main thing is that we want an end to the disturbances. I am sure that everybody in the House condemns all the acts of violence and hooliganism over the weekend.

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